Skip to main content

Parents’ Depressive Symptoms and Gun, Fire, and Motor Vehicle Safety Practices


Objective This study examined associations between mothers’ and fathers’ depressive symptoms and their parenting practices relating to gun, fire, and motor vehicle safety. Methods Using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort (ECLS-B), a nationally representative sample of children birth to age five, linear probability models were used to examine associations between measures of parents’ depressive symptoms and their use of firearms, smoke detectors, and motor vehicle restraints. Parents reported use of smoke detectors, motor vehicle restraints, and firearm ownership and storage. Results Results suggest mothers with moderate or severe depressive symptoms were 2 % points less likely to report that their child always sat in the back seat of the car, and 3 % points less likely to have at least one working smoke detector in the home. Fathers’ depressive symptoms were associated with a lower likelihood of both owning a gun and of it being stored locked. Fathers’ depressive symptoms amplified associations between mothers’ depressive symptoms and owning a gun, such that having both parents exhibit depressive symptoms was associated with an increased likelihood of gun ownership of between 2 and 6 % points. Conclusions Interventions that identify and treat parental depression early may be effective in promoting appropriate safety behaviors among families with young children.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. The reported sample sizes are rounded to the nearest 50, per NCES regulations regarding disclosure of restricted-use data. Asian and American Indian children, twins, and low and very low birth weight children were oversampled.

  2. In the fall of 2006, information was collected from all participating children, approximately 75 % of whom were in kindergarten or a higher grade. In the fall of 2007, data were collected from the remaining 25 % of participants who had not yet entered kindergarten, as well as from those who were repeating kindergarten in the 2007–2008 school year.


  1. Phelan, K. J., Khoury, J., Kalkwarf, H., & Lanphear, B. (2005). Residential injuries in U.S. children and adolescents. Public Health Reports, 120(1), 63–70.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  2. Danseco, E. R., Miller, T. R., & Spicer, R. S. (2000). Incidence and costs of 1987–1994 childhood injuries: Demographic breakdowns. Pediatrics, 105(2), e27–e27. doi:10.1542/peds.105.2.e27.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. Nagaraja, J., Menkedick, J., Phelan, K. J., Ashley, P., Zhang, X., & Lanphear, B. P. (2005). Deaths from residential injuries in US children and adolescents, 1985–1997. Pediatrics, 116(2), 454–461. doi:10.1542/peds.2004-1415.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. Hoyert, D. L., Xu, J., & Statistics, V. (2012). National vital statistics reports deaths: Preliminary data for 2011. Hyattsville, MD.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Injury Prevention & Control: Data and statistics (WISQARS). (2013).

  6. Schuster, M. A., Franke, T. M., Bastian, A. M., Sor, S., & Halfon, N. (2000). Firearm storage patterns in US homes with children. American Journal of Public Health, 90(4), 588–594.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  7. Phillips, J. A. (2013). Factors associated with temporal and spatial patterns in suicide rates across U.S. states, 1976–2000. Demography, 50(2), 591–614. doi:10.1007/s13524-012-0176-y.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. Drake, B. (2015). 5 facts about the NRA and guns in America. Pew Res Center, FactTank News Numbers. 2014. Accessed July 6, 2015.

  9. Kellermann, A. L., Rivara, F. P., Rushforth, N. B., et al. (1993). Gun ownership as a risk factor for homicide in the home. New England Journal of Medicine, 329, 1084–1091.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. Miller, M. (2012). Preventing suicide by preventing lethal injury: The need to act on what we already know. American Journal of Public Health, 102(Suppl), e1–e3. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2012.300662.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  11. Lewiecki, E. M., & Miller, S. (2013). Suicide, guns, and public policy. American Journal of Public Health, 103(1), 27–31. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2012.300964.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  12. Miller, M., Azrael, D., & Hemenway, D. (2002). Household firearm ownership and suicide rates in the United States. Epidemiology, 13(5), 517–524. doi:10.1097/00001648-200209000-00006.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  13. American Academy of Pediatrics. (2013) Firearms safety. Washington, DC.

  14. Becher, E. C., & Christakis, N. A. (1999). Firearm injury prevention counseling: Are we missing the mark? Pediatrics, 104(3), 530–535.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  15. Rho, H. (2013). The pediatricians versus the NRA about kids and guns. Slate. 2013.

  16. Kellermann, A. L., & Rivara, F. P. (2012). Silencing the science on gun research. JAMA, 8160, 1–2. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.208207.

    Google Scholar 

  17. NHSTA. Fatality analysis reporting system (FARS) Encyclopedia. NCSA Data Resour Natl Highw Traffic Saf Adm.

  18. Committee on Injury, Violence and PP. (2011). Child passenger safety. Pediatrics 127(4):e1050–e1066. doi:10.1542/peds.2011-0215.

  19. Durbin, D. R. (2011). Child passenger safety. Pediatrics, 127(4), 788–793. doi:10.1542/peds.2011-0213.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  20. Arbogast, K. B., Durbin, D. R., Cornejo, R., Kallan, M. J., & Winston, F. K. (2004). An evaluation of the effectiveness of forward facing child restraint systems. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 36(4), 585–589. doi:10.1016/S0001-4575(03)00065-4.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  21. Zaloshnja, E., Miller, T. R., & Hendrie, D. (2007). Effectiveness of child safety seats versus safety belts for children aged 2–3 years. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 161(1), 65–68. doi:10.1001/archpedi.161.1.65.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  22. Elliott, M. R., Kallan, M. J., Durbin, D. R., & Winston, F. K. (2006). Effectiveness of child safety seats versus seat belts in reducing risk for death in children in passenger vehicle crashes. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 160(6), 617–621. doi:10.1001/archpedi.160.6.617.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  23. Istre, G. R., McCoy, M., Carlin, D. K., & McClain, J. (2002). Residential fire related deaths and injuries among children: Fireplay, smoke alarms, and prevention. Injury Prevention, 8(2), 128–132. doi:10.1136/ip.8.2.128.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  24. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preventing fire deaths and injuries: CDC activities programs: Smoke alarm installation and fire-safety accomplishments: Funded partnership saves lives. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. 2010.

  25. McAnarney, E. R., & Stevens-Simon, C. (1990). Maternal psychological stress/depression and low birth weight: Is there a relationship? American Journal of Diseases of Children, 144(7), 789–792. doi:10.1001/archpedi.1990.02150310057027.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  26. Pachter, L. M., Auinger, P., Palmer, R., & Weitzman, M. (2006). Do parenting and the home environment, maternal depression, neighborhood, and chronic poverty affect child behavioral problems differently in different racial-ethnic groups? Pediatrics, 117(4), 1329–1338. doi:10.1542/peds.2005-1784.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  27. Turney, K. (2012). Pathways of disadvantage: Explaining the relationship between maternal depression and children’s problem behaviors. Social Science Research, 41(6), 1546–1564. doi:10.1016/j.ssresearch.2012.06.003.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  28. Bronte-Tinkew, J., Zaslow, M., Capps, R., Horowitz, A., & McNamara, M. (2007). Food insecurity works through depression, parenting, and infant feeding to influence overweight and health in toddlers. Journal of Nutrition, 137(9), 2160–2165.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  29. Dimatteo, M. R., Lepper, H. S., & Croghan, T. W. (2000). Depression is a risk factor for noncompliance with medical treatment. Archives of Internal Medicine, 160, 2101–2107.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  30. Field, T. (2010). Postpartum depression effects on early interactions, parenting, and safety practices: A review. Infant Behavior and Development, 33(1), 1–6. doi:10.1016/j.infbeh.2009.10.005.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  31. Cummings, E. M., & Davies, P. T. (1994). Maternal depression and child development. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 35(1), 73–122.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  32. Phelan, K., Khoury, J., Atherton, H., & Kahn, R. S. (2007). Maternal depression, child behavior, and injury. Injury Prevention, 13(6), 403–408. doi:10.1136/ip.2006.014571.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  33. Witt, W. P., Fortuna, L., Wu, E., et al. (2006). Children’s use of motor vehicle restraints: Maternal psychological distress, maternal motor vehicle restraint practices, and sociodemographics. Ambulatory Pediatrics, 6(3), 145–151.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  34. Leiferman, J. (2002). The effect of maternal depressive symptomatology on maternal behaviors associated with child health. Health Education & Behavior, 29(5), 596–607. doi:10.1177/109019802237027.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. McLennan, J. D., & Kotelchuck, M. (2000). Parental prevention practices for young children in the context of maternal depression. Pediatrics, 105(5), 1090–1095. doi:10.1542/peds.105.5.1090.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  36. Chung, E. K., Mccollum, K. F., Elo, I. T., Lee, H. J., Jennifer, F., & Culhane, J. F. (2004). Maternal depressive symptoms and infant health practices among low-income women. Pediatrics, 113, e523.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  37. Meadows, S., McLanahan, S., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2007). Parental depression and anxiety and early childhood behavior problems across family types. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69(5), 1162–1177.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. England, M. J., & Sim, L. J. (2009). Committee on depression, parenting practices, and the healthy development of children. Depression in parents, parenting, and children: Opportunities to improve identification, treatment, and prevention. Washington, DC.

  39. Radloff, L. S. (1977). The CES-D: A self-report depression scale for research in the general population. Applied Psychological Measurement, 1, 385–401.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Paulson, J. F., Dauber, S., & Leiferman, J. A. (2006). Individual and combined effects of maternal and paternal depression on parenting behavior. Pediatrics, 118(2), 659–668.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  41. Kessler, R. C., Andrews, G., Mroczek, D., Ustun, B., & Wittchen, H.-U. (1998). The world health organization composite international diagnostic interview short-form (CIDI-SF). International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research, 7(4), 171–185. doi:10.1002/mpr.47.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. World Health Organization. (1990). The composite international diagnostic interview (CIDI). Geneva: World Health Organization.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Egede, L. E. (2004). Diabetes, major depression, and functional disability among U.S. adults. Diabetes Care 27(2):421–428.

  44. Miller, M., & Henenway, D. (2008). Guns and suicide in the United States. New England Journal of Medicine, 359(10), 989–991.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  45. Institute of Medicine. Priorities for research to reduce the threat of firearm-related violence. Washington, DC; 2013.

Download references


Taryn Morrissey had full access to all of the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis, and does not have any conflicts of interest that might be interpreted as influencing the manuscript. Katie Vinopal provided excellent research assistance. Participants at the Society for Research in Child Development Special Topics conference in April 2014 provided helpful comments.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Taryn W. Morrissey.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Morrissey, T.W. Parents’ Depressive Symptoms and Gun, Fire, and Motor Vehicle Safety Practices. Matern Child Health J 20, 799–807 (2016).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Maternal depressive symptoms
  • Paternal depressive symptoms
  • Firearm safety
  • Fire safety
  • Motor vehicle safety